Exclusive Clive Beddall A new Department for Rural Affairs, planned by New Labour to replace MAFF soon after the election, will NOT split the food chain with government responsibilities being divided between several departments ­ despite widespread industry fears to the contrary. That was the assurance from agriculture minister Nick Brown on Thursday, talking exclusively to The Grocer from his Newcastle-upon-Tyne constituency. Confirmation that a rural affairs department will replace MAFF came in New Labour's manifesto on Wednesday, but it failed to dampen food and farming industry fears that several ministries would assume responsibility for the different parts of the food chain. For weeks, Westminster has been buzzing with rumours that Tony Blair, assuming his party wins the election, would break up MAFF, switch food industry responsibilities to the DTI and the Treasury, and leave farming in a new rural affairs department. However, after lengthy Whitehall silence on the matter, the plan for a rural affairs department was confirmed in Labour's manifesto on Wednesday. And Brown told The Grocer on Thursday: "There has been a debate about this whole issue in government and we are of the view that while competition issues would stay with the DTI, we should keep the whole food chain together in one department of rural affairs." The minister's comments will delight the food chain. On Wednesday the FDF said in a statement reacting to the manifesto announcement: "If we are to restore consumer confidence, any department dealing with food issues must cover the whole of the food chain and be led by a senior cabinet minister." A similar plea came from the NFU. And as The Grocer went to press, it's understood that the NFU, FDF and BRC were expressing support for the proposals in a joint message to the Cabinet Office. However, asked whether he expected to be the cabinet minister responsible for the new department, assuming Labour wins the election, Brown added: "That, of course, is a matter for Tony Blair. But I have been taking a close interest in the preparations for the new department." Brown argued that a new department "makes sound sense", adding: "But it's important we get it right, and that a more market orientated policy is created in a better focused rural affairs department." Civil servants had been asked to consider a quick implementation of the plan. He envisaged it being modelled on similar departments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and would, he believed, fit in well with the EU agrifood structures. He added that the replacement of MAFF with the new department would be one of a new Labour government's priorities, and would take place "soon after the election". Meanwhile, alongside the new department, New Labour is promising an independent commission on the food and farming industry ­ a move prompted by the foot and mouth crisis. {{NEWS }}